Should I Sign Up For That Race?

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for A Race - A Pretty Place to Play

I don’t know about you, but for the last week or so my feed has been a flurry of excitement as people hear whether they’ve secured a place for London Marathon, take the plunge and sign up for races inspired by friends who’ve raced recently and set themselves training goals for next spring. When your feed is awash with bling, PBs and race pictures it’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement and start signing up for everything under the sun.. It’s got me thinking about how hype influences our choices, and whether we’re really doing the right thing by our selves if we’re constantly racing? When we race too often we risk burn out, our bodies and our minds get tired. There are risks if we’ve not trained sufficiently, we could get injured or end up having to deal with the psychological impact of a disappointing performance. Plus it sucks to train for and run events that, quite honestly, you’re just not that in to.

I know I’m not immune to the noise, in the past I’ve been known to race every weekend for months, and even now it takes so much will power not to sign up for races. It’s hard when everyone around you is excited, when you feel like the only way you can push yourself is in a race environment and where there’s some seriously enviable bling on offer! So how do you make sure you make the right choices for you? I’ve asked PT, Backpackers Queen and all round brilliant person Megan Beggs to chat through the questions you should think about asking yourself before you press ‘buy’ on that race entry.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for a Race - A Pretty Place to Play

There seems to be key times of year when ballots open, ballots close and places become available for the next wave of races, and the running community tends to go a bit crazy. Suddenly everyone is talking about what races they’re doing, how excited they are and generally stirring up all sorts of excitement, and unfortunately too often people get caught up in the hype of it all and sign up for everything, due to  the FOMO, without actually thinking. 

Now as runners we all love to get involved but there a few key things I urge you all to think about before entering that next race.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Sign Up for A Race - A Pretty Place To Play

What other events do you have around race time?

Yes the race might be on a free weekend but are you stacked up with social events and other races around it? 

Great, A half / marathon in early March, that’s a free month but in the 3 months prior you have Christmas with the family, News Years with friends, two other fun races you’ve already signed up for and a skiing trip. Now that sounds like a wonderful 3 months but (1) how much energy are you going to have left over to run another race at the end of it? and (2) when will you fit in your training (see point 2 below)? 

Yes events are exciting and fun (both social and races) but they take a lot out of us mentally and physically. Put that on top of everything else going on in your life, plus the months of training for the event, and your body will be at breaking point! Cue injury and exhaustion! 

So grab yourself a yearly calendar, plaster it on your wall, write up all your events and use this to help you plan, before you sign up for that next event.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for a Race - A Pretty Place to Play

Will you be able to put in the training required?

Although a race is only one day, as I mentioned above the training should roughly cover the 3 months prior. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a beginner, you should always be putting in the training to prepare your body for a race. Even if you’re not after that PB (and who are we kidding the majority of us are!), your body needs time to adapt and prepare for the challenge of racing. If you want to come out the other side injure free, you need to be putting in 2-3 mid week runs, strength training, mobility training, weekend long runs and rest - all of which take up a large chunk of your life. Are you willing to make sacrifices to fit it all in? So again, make sure you check the months prior to ensure you can give your training and race 100%.

Questions To Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for A Race - A Pretty Place to Play

Is this what YOU actually want to do?

Will this race actually benefit your goals? It may sound great to sign up because everyone else is and the pressure / FOMO is real, but if it’s not a goal of yours or if it doesn’t help you progress towards your goals is it really worth it? Why run a marathon if your dream is to do a sub 2 hour half marathon? Yes a marathon might be right up there for your mate, but it doesn’t have to be on your bucket list. Why not tackle something that’ll help you smash your own goals, like some shorter distance races to work on your speed, and then a couple of halves throughout the year? Sit down, write out what you want out of running and use this list to make your choices every time a new race become available [pro tip - stick it up somewhere obvious at home, not only will it help you make smart decisions about race entries, it’ll also inspire your training!].

If you can follow these steps your next race year will be a stress free, fun and goal smashing time.

Mentally Preparing for a Marathon

Mentally Preparing for a Marathon - A Pretty Place to Play

Preparing your body for a marathon is easy. You follow the training plan you’ve chosen. You eat sensibly. You cut back on booze. You prioritise sleep. You try to manage stress. Do all of that and you’ll make it to the start line. Preparing your mind is harder. Your mind is a much wilder beast than your body, it’s reluctant to be trained and controlled and if anything’s going to floor your marathon plans, it’s your thoughts. So how do you manage that?

Bournemouth Marathon was so good for me because I managed to keep my mind in check. It wasn’t easy, it took practice, but on the day the effort paid off in spades.

Mentally Preparing for a Marathon - A Pretty Place to Play

The trick to mental preparation is starting early, right at the beginning of your training cycle. When I’m planning my training I also like to take some time to think about why I’m running the race. What do I want to get out of it? Is there something I’d like to learn? Something I want to test? From the moment I signed up I had Bournemouth Marathon earmarked as a test ground for the work I’d been doing with my coach. It was planned as a milestone where I could assess my progress and identify what needed more work when it came to my relationship with running. I knew that my priorities would be to stick to my race plan, watch my form and test how it felt to run for a long time so that I could spot any weaknesses. When it comes to The Speed Project my objective is to be as mentally and physically strong as possible so that I can give as much as I can to my team. My priorities will be strength training, recovery and working through some of the fears I have around physiological pain. Once you work out the ‘why’ you can use this to mentally prepare for your marathon.

As I train I try to connect with my why during every workout. When it gets tough I draw on what I’m doing all this for. It helps focus me. It also lets me rehearse how I’ll deal with challenging moments during the marathon itself - coming back to my why, coming back to my breathing. There are so many ways to connect with your why - repeating mantras, practicing breathing protocols, physical cues - try out different techniques and find what works for you. During Bournemouth I repeated my mantras (‘I am unscared’, ‘I am an intelligent athlete’, ‘this is my race’) in my head, focused on nasal breathing and checked in on my form whenever things started to feel tough. Coming back to these little physical and mental prompts kept me focused and brought me in to the moment.

Mentally Preparing for a Marathon - A Pretty Place to Play

Getting real about the challenge I’m taking on has really helped me prepare. The week before Bournemouth I wrote a list of everything that could go wrong. Injury, blisters, broken headphones, sickness, a dodgy tummy, it was all covered. Then I went through and wrote down how I’d deal with each scenario, and then how I could mitigate each scenario. This exercise reminded me to respect the distance and quelled any anxieties I had about the unknown. It reassured me that if things didn’t go to plan (as often happens during a marathon) I could adapt, I had a plan B.

Talking of plans, planning my race strategy was a big part of my mental preparation for Bournemouth. There was no point in that marathon where I was without a plan. I wrote it all down in detail, visualising each mile and then visualising my reaction to challenges, to things going wrong. I visualised the barriers, the noises around me, the things that could distract me from my plan, visualising how I’d deal with the wall, with pain, with feeling like I wanted to stop. These visualisation became part of my routine. Sitting on the tube, sitting in bed, I’d take the time to get comfortable with everything that could happen, so when it did I was ready and it wouldn’t undo all the work I’d done to get to the marathon. By marathon day everything I needed to do, in every scenario, was second nature.

I’m right at the start of my journey to The Speed Project, and although I’ve worked out the ‘why’ behind my training I still need to work out exactly how I’m going to prepare mentally to train for and live through 3 days running in the desert. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before, but I know some of these tools will make it on to the roster.

How do you mentally prepare for races?

Bournemouth Marathon 2018

Bournemouth Marathon 2018 - A Pretty Place To Play

Marathon number 3 is done. A year of work spent over 26.2 miles after false starts, difficult days, disappointments and a spring marathon that didn’t happen due to illness. A year of working with Chevy becoming a better runner, redefining my relationship with movement and forging the connection between my mind and my body. This year has changed everything, and I couldn’t be happier about it. In particular I couldn’t be happier to end it with Bournemouth Marathon, one of my most enjoyable runs to date.

Right from the beginning Bournemouth Marathon was going to be my test ground. A milestone where I could assess my progress and identify what needed more work. Here’s what I learnt, in the style of Mother of All Lists, and in no particular order.

Bournemouth Marathon 2018 - A Pretty Place To Play

I don’t run for times, but never has that been more true than yesterday, when I left my watch at home and ran on feel alone. It was one of the most amazing experiences ever. It might have been my slowest marathon time, but it was definitely my most enjoyable race to date.

Its totally possibly to run an entire marathon nasal only. And you know what, it feels good! Although the snot bombs are something else.

Taking time to chat to other runners is amazing. Big up Ken who I chatted to through one of the races hillier sections. Another soul who was running watchless and for the joy of it all.

Bournemouth Marathon 2018 - A Pretty Place To Play

Bournemouth Marathon is hilly. The inclines are serious and you need to be careful on the declines so you don’t fall. I ended up walking the hills because they were so extra. Corey likes to remind me that the route from LA to Las Vegas* is, mostly, uphill. I need to work on my hill runs and leg strength to get it done in the desert.

Mobility every 2 miles pays off. Just some squats and leg swings, but you’ll see the gains in the last few miles. Ignore any unhelpful comments, they just don’t know your genius.

My stomach was a bit jumpy after water in the last few miles, so I alternated speed walking and running. I don’t think it undermined my pace over all. Generally I need to work out how I fuel, I think I may have been taking fuel too often or a little bit of pre-run angst was messing with my tummy. Either way, nutrition is a pillar I need to be more mindful of for performance (might’ve listened to Rich Roll and Dr Rangan Chattergee for a fair amount of this race! The four pillars approach fascinates me, and I reckon can easily be adapted for human performance).

Bournemouth Marathon 2018 - A Pretty Place To Play

My form was on point for 26.2 miles. One of my goals at the start was to be as strong crossing the finish line as I was at the start line. So proud I was just that.

I’m open minded about whether I run a road marathon again, but I’m not sure it’ll be something I chase. I loved this run and felt good, but it wasn’t always the most engaging experience and when I think about some of the other running I’ve done (trail in Ibiza, exploring Thorney Island) I wonder if using my feet to explore might be more my thing. Who knows, I’m staying open to everything.

Nothing beats coming off a race feeling strong.

I seem to have developed an aversion to physiological pain. You know, the pain you feel when you hold a plank for just five more seconds. It’s the same pain when you push that little bit extra in a marathon. I had more in the tank, but my body was scared. Way back when I didn’t have this issue, but equally my life was very different. My life was pretty painful in itself. Now I’m happy I wonder if my body reacts to that pain differently. To get where I need to be for The Speed Project (super resilient, a bit faster) I need to navigate this. Unpicking the mental is the first step.

Bournemouth Marathon 2018 - A Pretty Place To Play

Recovery recovery recovery. In the desert I’m going to need to be on my recovery game between laps. Bournemouth has demonstrated the benefits of being strong going into a race, although I hurt s bit today I’m not a total mess. Now to keep moving so I’m sprightly for my 6am shift at work tomorrow!

Mindset is everything. I planned this race meticulously (you should see the chart). I visualised the up and downs (other than having to pass under the finish sign at mile 17, that was cruel of the race organisers), I knew how I’d respond to every issue and I knew why I was running. It’s the last one that’s most important. Being clear on why you’re running a race is what stops you getting swept up in everyone else’s noise, which could result in choices that just don’t serve you. Marathons are a time you can be totally selfish, own that. Shut out the world, focus on you, screw anyone who has anything to say about it (and lap them later). I know that I’m going to need a different approach for The Speed Project, so The next task for me is really nailing why I’m running and getting my mindset clear.

Nothing makes you feel more alive and more in charge of your self than doing the thing. Especially when you’re doing the thing your way.

Chips are everything. Especially when all you’ve eaten is sugar for five hours.

* Oh, and if you’ve not already worked it out, my next big run is The Speed Project in March 2019. If you’ve not come across it before, this video explains the crazy.

** As always massive massive thanks to 361 Europe for supporting me in everything I do.